Their footsteps echoed off of the walls, and there was the creak of metal and leather as they moved, but no other sounds filled the air, other than the occasional muttered curse from under Varric's breath. No one knew quite what to say to him. His brother's actions were certainly not his fault, but Minda could tell Varric felt responsible for their predicament. No one else was acting as if they thought Varric was at fault. In fact, it was safe to say that no one was really interested in assigning blame at that point. Instead, they were worried about whether or not they would be able to find a way out of the Deep Roads. With most of their supplies back at Bartrand's camp, it was important that they find their way out as soon as possible. Minda had felt a moment of panic when that door first slammed shut. It was almost as if the walls had begun pressing in on her, and she'd had a hard time breathing until Carver called that there was an opening at the back of the room. Her brother and Varric had gone looking, but Anders had stayed at her side, peering at her with concern.
"I'm fine," she had told him, but it was far from the truth.
With each hour that passed, Minda felt her anxiety growing. Would they find their way out? Would they run out of what little food and water they had with them before they found the surface? And what about darkspawn? In that they did have one advantage, however. Anders claimed he could sense when they were near. But would that advance warning do them any good, if they were all dehydrated and weak with hunger? Each of them carried a waterskin and a small amount of food in their packs. Minda tried her best not to touch either the first day, though she had to resort to taking a few sips of water before they stopped to sleep. She was trying her best to ignore the growling of her stomach when Carver came up to her.
"Here," he said, thrusting a small handful of dried fruit at her. "Eat this."
She shook her head. "No, Carver. That's yours. I..."
"Just eat it," he growled. "You're no good to any of us if you won't eat." He nodded his head in Anders' direction. "Your friend over there might be skilled at healing, but you're the one who keeps us safe when the beasties come."
Minda refused to take the food from him. "No, I... I have food of my own. Keep yours."
"Only if you eat something," Carver said. "Now."
He stood at her side and watched as she pulled a few small pieces of hard bread from her pack. Only once she'd finished it all did he leave her alone, going to Varric's side, presumably to discuss what the next day would bring.
They wandered through the twisting passageways, killing whatever came at them. That first day was a blur of fighting, but they finally managed to find a way out of the thaig where they had found the idol. It was not all for nothing, though. They managed to find more treasure than they could even carry, but they all did their best to take as much as possible. The gold lightened their moods, and everyone was back to talking and laughing. But only until they had to stop for the night. It was then that they realized they had no tents, no bedrolls, no change of clothing to sleep in. All of those things had been left back in Bartrand's camp.
"I'm going to see if I can find something to burn," Minda announced. "So we can have a fire."
Varric and Carver just nodded, but Anders stood. "I'll go with you," he offered.
They didn't have to walk very far before they found a part of a wall that had crumbled, where a few small roots had pushed through. Together they began gathering what they could find. There wasn't much, however, and what they did find was not big enough to keep a fire going while they slept. It would be a cold night, with no fire and no bedrolls to keep them warm.
"So," Minda said, trying to force herself not to dwell on their situation. "How exactly is it that you can sense the darkspawn?"
"What?" Anders asked. "Oh, I... it's just part of being a Grey Warden. One of the perks, I suppose."
"But how does it work?" Minda pressed.
Anders shifted, obviously uncomfortable with her question. "It's... not something I can really explain. Not something I'm supposed to explain to anyone who's not a Grey Warden, anyway. The ceremony we go through, to become... what we are... well, it changes you. It's not just a matter of being recruited. We have to pass a test of sorts. One of the outcomes of that test is our ability to sense darkspawn if they're close."
Minda wanted to ask more questions, about what it meant to be a Grey Warden, but also about what had really happened when Aveline's husband, Wesley, died. The witch had said the only way to save him was for him to become a Warden. She had a feeling, though, that she would not get any answers from Anders about being a Grey Warden. It didn't really matter, though. None of it really mattered, did it? Not if they were to die down there, lost in the Deep Roads. She glanced over her shoulder, back to where they had made their makeshift camp. It sickened her, to know that their mother would never receive word about what had happened to her children, should they never make it back.
"You're worried about him, aren't you?" Anders asked, and when she looked at him, he gestured to Carver.
"I'm worried about all of us," Minda said. "But yes. Mother asked me not to bring him. Begged me to leave him behind. She's already lost one child, and now..."
Anders touched her shoulder. "You worry too much," he said. "True, we don't know exactly where we are, but Varric has some form of the dwarven stonesense, even if he was born topside. You'll see. A few days, and we'll find something that looks familiar, something that will help us find our way out. Remember, there was more than one entrance into the Deep Roads. We don't even necessarily need to find the one we used to get down here."
"I hope you're right," Minda whispered.
They walked back to the others, and Anders built up as big a fire as he could manage. With no one really in the mood to talk, they all curled up and tried to get some sleep. Minda used her pack as a pillow, but it was hard to get comfortable without a blanket of some kind. For once she found herself wishing she wore the more traditional mage clothing. Had she been in a robe of some kind, she could have easily tucked her feet up underneath it to keep warm. As it was, she wore leathers that more closely resembled armor. It helped strangers from seeing her as a mage, but it did little to keep her warm. Shivering, she pulled her knees to her chest.
Varric and Carver were both snoring within a matter of minutes, but Minda couldn't get her mind to settle long enough to fall asleep. Even the smallest sound made her eyes fly open to see if they were under attack. The cold, hard stone beneath her did little to aid her attempts at sleep. She could feel the ground pulling the heat from her body, even when she used her magic to warm the stone. And even through her clothing, she seemed to feel every bump and crack in the ground. With a sigh, she rolled from one side to the other, trying to find a position that wouldn't make her back ache. When she rolled to her left side, she opened her eyes to see Anders looking at her.
Neither of them spoke; they just continued to look at each other. Minda was thankful for the dim light, so that Anders might not see the flush that rose in her cheeks. How long had he been watching her, she wondered. And why was he watching her. She had flirted with him on occasion, but no more or less than she had done with her other companions. Besides, he had always seemed adamantly opposed to anything that even hinted at a relationship that was anything more than just friendly. Yet when he extended his hand out to her, she didn't hesitate in doing the same.
Anders took her hand and turned it over, so that her palm was facing up. He then put his hand over hers, palm down, but without touching her. Instead, she felt a heat course through her. It started in her hand and spread up her arm and into her body. She felt the flush in her face grow, but this time it was because of Anders' magic and not the man himself.
"How did you do that?" Minda whispered. "Isn't that... dangerous?" Her father had always taught her and Bethany never to focus heat on a living creature, unless they wished to do it harm.
"A trick I picked up a long time ago," Anders responded. "I suppose it could be dangerous, if you don't know what you're doing. It's sort of like healing in a way. I'm just very aware of your body as I do it, so that I'm not focusing too much heat into the wrong places."
"You're... very aware of..." Minda felt her face go hot again. As he'd sent the warmth through her, there were certain parts of her body that seemed to receive slightly more attention than others.
Anders just grinned at her. "I'll admit, this is the first time I've used it for such practical purposes. Usually that little trick is used more... recreationally."
It was then that she realized his hand was still resting atop hers, and she pulled it back. "Well... thank you," she whispered. It was all she could think to say. Although warmer, Minda still had a difficult time drifting off. Was Anders, too, afraid they weren't going to make it out alive? Was that why he was behaving so differently from before? Of course, in the end, did it really matter?
When she awoke the next morning, Minda ached all over. She stretched this way and that, but nothing could ease the dull pain in her shoulders and back. "Perhaps I can help?" Anders offered, coming up behind her. When she hesitated, he frowned. "I've already aided Varric and your brother," he said.
"Let him heal you," Carver said. "Trust me, you'll feel much better."
She finally nodded, and Anders held a hand up above her head. He had healed her before, but she'd never paid so close attention as he'd done it. However, nothing felt out of the ordinary as the pain seemed to drain from her. When he was done, Anders leaned in close to whisper, "I would never take advantage of my patients." His face was serious, and Minda wondered if she had offended him with her hesitation. Well, he would get over it, if that was the case.
Again, Carver insisted that she eat something. Minda would have liked to eat every last piece of food in her pack, but she held back, selecting only a tiny handful of fruit and a small piece of bread. Then they were off. Varric led, with Carver at the rear. Minda and Anders, being the more fragile of the group, stayed near the center and near each other. It seemed she often caught him watching her, and the attention flustered her. On the second evening, Carver pulled Anders aside, and the two men had a long talk, though afterwards, neither would tell her what it was about. On the morning of the third day, they found a large number of Deep mushrooms.
"Wait!" Minda called out before Varric could tear them from the ground.
"It's okay, Hawke," he assured her. "I recognize these. They're safe."
"No, I know that. Just..." She gently moved him away from them, then extended her hand over the mushrooms. Just a little magic was all it took to make each one more than double in size.
"Well, if you could do that, why haven't you done it to our food already?" Varric demanded.
"It only works on things that are still growing, still alive," Minda replied.
Varric eyed her for a moment. "Well... can we eat them now?"
"Yes," she said. "Yes, please." Each of them grabbed up as many mushrooms as they could stuff into their mouths, shoving more into pockets and packs, until there were no more to be had. For all of their rubbery texture and bland taste, Minda had never eaten anything more delicious. It was the first time her stomach had been even remotely full in days, and she reveled in the feeling.
Less than an hour later, Varric saw something that looked familiar. "This looks like the way back," he said, pointing down a long stretch that looked the same as everything else to Minda. "With luck, we should be able to make it back in... a week? Hopefully less."
It was more time than they all hoped it would take, but it was the first sign they'd had that gave them hope to even reach the surface. Full bellies and a path that looked familiar, even if only to Varric, put them all in a good mood. However, their good fortune was soon balanced by bad when Anders informed them that he could sense darkspawn approaching at a fast pace. They barely had time to draw their weapons and ready themselves before the creatures were upon them.
Carver rushed forward, sword drawn, to meet them. The rest of them stood back, with Varric a little in front of Minda and Anders, each one throwing whatever they could at the beasts. Minda cast as quickly as she was able, aiming at anything that tried to get close to her brother. It was difficult, though, and Carver was quickly surrounded. Why hadn't she brought Fenris along? Or Aveline? Or even Isabela? Anyone who fought in such a way that they would provide an extra target, so Carver wasn't the only one in biting distance. Why hadn't she just left her brother at home, as her mother asked?
When the last of the darkspawn finally fell, Carver was covered in blood. Anders went quickly to his side to offer healing, but Minda was right there with him, checking Carver over as best she could. She knew little of healing, but it certainly couldn't hurt to watch it being done. But as she reached for her brother, he pushed her hands away.
"I'm fine, sis. Really. Let's just... let's just move on," He eyed the creatures at his feet in disgust. "Let's get away from this mess as quickly as we can."
Their travel for the rest of the day seemed slower than usual. They were all tired from the fight, but Carver even moreso than the others. He tried to hide it, and Minda could tell he was getting annoyed with her constant hovering, but she was worried about him. They were all exhausted, though. Poor sleep and little food tended to do that to a person. Coupled with the stress of not knowing if they would make it out of the Deep Roads alive, it was really no wonder that any of them were feeling less than at their best.
They had a little more good luck later that night, when Varric found a small pool of stagnant water. Between Minda and Anders, they were able to cleanse enough so that they could all refill their skins. They all even managed to wash their faces, and Minda took Carver's shirt, which had been splattered with darkspawn blood, and washed it out.
"I find myself envious of that shirt," Anders said, coming up to stand next to her as she bent over the small pool. When she gave him a confused look, he grinned. "I just mean that I find myself desperately wishing for a bath right now."
Minda rolled back onto her heels, quirking her lips into a smile. "Oh? And you want me to be the one to wash you? Is that what you're saying?"
"What? No, I..." Anders stammered, hand going to the back of his neck. "You know that would never work. We would never work. It's better if you just... put it from your mind."
He walked away without letting her respond, and Minda rolled her eyes at his back. "Maker," she mumbled to herself, smiling a little. "A little friendly banter, and the man thinks I'm proposing marriage or something. The two are not the same thing."
"And a good thing, too, or I'd find myself up to my armpits in jealous wives," came a voice from behind her, and Minda turned to see Varric standing there, grinning at her.
"You... weren't supposed to hear that," she said, returning the smile.
"Hawke, I hear everything," Varric replied, giving her a wink. "But if you're offering to bathe people once we get back to Kirkwall..."
Minda laughed lightly. "Oh, Varric. If only you liked human woman."
"It's too bad, isn't it?" Varric tapped her on the chin. "But if I did, I promise you'd be at the top of my list."
"I bet you say that to all the human girls," Minda replied with a dramatic sigh.
"Not all of them. Just the ones I want something from," he admitted, holding out his waterskin. "I seem to have used up all my water. Mind filling me up again?"
Once Carver's shirt was as clean as she was able to get it, Minda returned to her brother. "You didn't have to do that, you know," he said as he accepted it from her.
"I know," Minda said, sitting down at his side. "But I wanted to." She peered at him. Was it because of the poor lighting, or was Carver's face paler than normal? "Are you sure you're all right?"
"I'll be better when we get out of here," he said. Then Carver did something she couldn't remember him ever doing. He leaned over and kissed her on the head. "I know we haven't always gotten along, but..."
"Don't," Minda said, cutting him off. She couldn't stand the idea of him acting like they weren't going to make it out. "We're fine. Everything's going to be fine. You'll see."
Carver laughed, though it was a hollow sound. "If you say so, sis. I should know better than to argue with you by now, huh?"
"That's right," she agreed, patting him on the knee. "Now let's get some sleep."
There were no more attacks, and five days later, Minda saw something she had seen before. "That carving," she said, excitement coloring her voice. "I've seen it before. We're back where we started."
"By the Maker, I think you're right," Varric agreed. "A few more hours, and we should be to the entrance. Then back to Kirkwall. I personally plan on going to the nicest tavern in town and ordering up as much food as I can eat."
"I just want a change of clothing and a bath," Anders stated.
"Trust me, Blondie," Varric said with a grin. "We all want you to have those things, too."
Anders snorted, but it was a small sound from Carver that caught Minda's attention. "Do you think... we might stop and rest, just for a while? I don't feel well."
Irritation flared. Minda didn't want to stop; she wanted to run all the way to the entrance. She wanted nothing more than to feel sunlight on her face. "Of course," she said, trying to conceal the sigh in her voice. "If you're sick..." But she wasn't able to finish the sentence. As she turned to face her brother, he collapsed. It was then that she was able to see how sick he really was.